gratitude

Ogie

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Ogie with Mookie and Fancy in the background

I was prepared for the stench of suffering and hopelessness in that barn. I was prepared for manure-encrusted floors and walls, for cows chained in misery, suffering silently while large eyes followed my movements. Every time I walk into a place of suffering such as this one, I leave a piece of my soul with the ones I can’t save, offering deep prayers and salty tears in exchange for a lifetime of brutality.

 

I was there to rescue one baby boy calf, who had been born two days before and was slated to be shipped to a veal farm later that day. But I was in for a surprise. Another calf, Ogie, had been born in the night, and the farmer was willing to allow me to take both babies home.

 

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Baby Ogie

 

Ogie was born into bloodshed and death on that cold March morning, in that dark, dirty barn heated only by the manure and breath of hundreds of cows chained in stanchions. Unbeknownst to me until several days later, his mother hemorrhaged after giving birth to him, but she didn’t die right away. The farmer kept her alive, milking her for two more days while she lay covered in manure on a cold concrete floor, bleeding to death. This is not meant to be an indictment. I know the farmer was desperate. But still, it caused the cows great pain.

Ogie and Nandi would have been sold to a veal farm. This farmer told me repeatedly that he didn’t like taking babies from their mothers, and that he hated selling them for veal. He also shared with me how overwhelming his work was, and that he hated the poor conditions of the cows. He said the work was too much for him, and that he couldn’t afford help to take better care of the cows. Competing against industrial dairies, this farmer suffered almost as much as his cows. I implored him to leave the industry. Working 16-hour days and hovering just above poverty-level for his efforts, he remained convinced that there was no other way for him to survive. Family farmers, too, suffer at the hands of corporate farming. Very few people win in the harsh and strange economy of the modern “food system”.

But I don’t want to tell you about facts and figures. Those, you can find everywhere with a simple internet search.

I want to tell you how I felt when two days later I returned at the moment of Ogie’s mother’s death.

I had come hoping for milk for the babies, not knowing that Ogie’s mother had been down since giving birth. When I found her moaning in pain, covered in manure, I could see that she was fighting to stay alive. Instinctively, I knew why. Her baby. She was staying alive for her baby. I wiped the manure from her face and looked her in the eye. “Your baby is safe. I took him to Indraloka, where cows are free. I’ll care for him every day of his life, I promise you.”

She laid her head on my lap and exhaled for the last time, and in that sacred moment, I was changed. It was as if she imbued in me all of her motherly love and strength when I made that vow.

 

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Baby Nandi kisses sick baby Ogie

 

***

I kept my promise. I did everything I could, every day of my life from then until now, not only to keep Ogie safe but also to protect the hundreds of other mothers’ babies for whom I now care. I think of her every night and pray that I can be half the nurturer and protector she was.

Ogie was named after a close friend of mine who died just around the time of his birth. Ogema was an Anishinaabe Medicine Man from whom I learned a great deal, although probably not enough.

So, Ogie was born into bloodshed and death, but also great hope. Nandi, the calf born the day before Ogie, saved his life by leading me to him. Those two little calfs were so tiny that I was able to take them home in the back of my small SUV.

 

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Baby Nandi

 

At first, Ogie was very sick and used to sleep for hours on my lap while Nandi frolicked quietly nearby. Have you ever experienced another being placing all of their trust in you? Do you know the feeling of innocent eyes looking at yours as if they are sure there is no problem in the world that you can’t solve? Have you ever breathed in the scent of a newborn, and in that breath, recognized the prayer for peace and safety that simply wafts from all innocent young beings? It made me a better person, his faith. Happily, we were able to get him the veterinary care he needed, and he soon grew strong and healthy.

For months, my days were punctuated with the big eyes and sweet moos of calfs awaiting warm milk. I had to bottle feed them at the same time, or they would jostle in an attempt at both getting their bottle first. By the time they had been with me a week, they were both the same size as me, and much, much stronger. After two weeks, they were both significantly larger than me. And of course, they just kept growing. So, I devised a system of bracing myself against the barn wall, a bottle in each hand, also braced against the wall. I was able to use the wall to hold me and the bottles steady, no matter how the calfs pushed and jostled as they nursed.

Holsteins are bred to be unnaturally large so that they can produce more milk. However, outside of a sanctuary setting, males rarely live past a few weeks. A few bulls are kept for breeding, but frozen semen is usually shipped far and wide. As a result, rarely do any of us see a full-grown Holstein male.

I knew from the day he was born that his size would probably kill him. I knew every time I fed him and scratched him and marveled at how healthy and strong he was that someday his big body would betray him.

Ogie grew to be larger than a full grown male moose, with horns. Often visitors, seeing him tower above us, feared him despite his gentle nature.  All I could see were those same big baby eyes. I didn’t care how big he got, he would always be that same, sweet calf that I loved so much, and I believe that to him, I would always be the woman who tried so hard to make up for the loss of his mother. He trusted me and I would do anything for him.

 

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Regal Ogie

 

So, of course, I understood that someday, he’d grow so large that his legs would no longer hold him. I just kept hoping that someday would be many, many days and years from now.

But it wasn’t.

It was a Friday morning in 2018.  We found him down in the icy pasture and unable to rise. We worked for hours in the cold, trying every single way we knew how to get him up. His herd– cows, horses, a goat, and a cat–  watched us anxiously, comforting him with kisses and cheering us on with looks and moos of encouragement. His eyes held fear, but also that same faith he had in me since he was a sick, little, orphaned calf. I would have given anything to get him up. A small army of humans worked alongside me, and every one of us would have gladly given all that was in us if we could have spared him this pain, or given him another day of joy.

We called experts near and far. We consulted with multiple vets. We pulled out every piece of lifesaving equipment available for cows. We used every ounce of ingenuity we could muster, and every bit of strength our pathetic little human bodies had to offer.

Finally, we were able to get equipment large enough to lift him, but his legs wouldn’t hold him up. He collapsed in a heap, moaning in pain, imploring me with his big baby eyes. Ogie wanted to live, but his body couldn’t comply.  It was clear, from his attempts to stand when lifted, that one of his back hips was broken. There was nothing more we could do.

 

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Ogie relaxing with Mookie (cow) and Wesley T. Monkey (cat)

 

I called the vet, and together we waited. Humans, cows, horses, a goat, and cats gathered around him, all of us crying into his thick, lustrous fur. If you have never seen a cow cry, you should know that tears actually stream down their faces, just like ours. Several of our young calfs, with whom Ogie used to play so gently, sobbed aloud. The adult cows cried silently, as did I.

“Someday I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me,” my voice broke as I tried to sing his favorite lullaby. His eyes never left mine. “Away above the chimney tops, where troubles melt like lemon drops, that’s where you’ll find me.”

I called on his mother’s spirit to take him home.

Together, we took one last gulp of delicious air. As one, we expelled it. The light faded from his eyes. The rest of us breathed on as his mother’s spirit came to gather him up and take him home.

“Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue,” I promised him, “and the dreams that we dare to dream really do come true.”

 

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What a blessing to walk with him for a short while

 

Please share your memories of Ogie, or another cow you have loved and lost, in the comments below. We love reading them!

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Plentiforous: The Porcupine, the Platypus, and the Pauper Princess

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A story for children of all ages

Illustrations by Michah Beahan

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The only sound was birds singing their ancient love songs as Princess Isi stared into dancing gems in the lake, the sun’s reflection on its surface. But Princess Isi did not hear the birdsong, and did not even see the lake. She was lost in her own thoughts…

“If only I had a platypus! I would call him Ivor, the Irish Warrior Platypus. He would be so much fun to hang out with! He could swim in the lake while I dance on the shore… Come to think of it, I need three of them!! What on earth does one call three of them? Platypi? Platypuses? All I know is that without at least one platypus there is nothing to do around here!”

This was a common lament for Princess Isi, who had been dreaming of a platypus for a very long time, at least two weeks. Princess Isi knew, she just knew, that she was meant to have a platypus, and that her life would never be complete without one. But how ever does a mere young princess find a Platypus?

She had asked her parents a million times, and they just smiled like she was saying something cute. But it was not cute, and she was not cute. She was serious. Princess Isi needed a platypus (or three)!

“Mom,” she cried, “this is a matter of life and death! I cannot go one without a platypus named Ivor!”

“Don’t be ridiculous, child,” her mother chided. “You are a princess! You have everything a girl could want. Why do you think you need a platypus so much? Or platypi? What is the plural for platypus, anyways?”

“I don’t know,” Princess Isi mumbled dejectedly, “and besides, without a platypus, I am not a princess. I may as well be a pauper…”

You see, Princess Isi was lonely. She didn’t seem to know how to make friends at school. She and her parents had come from a faraway land. Their skin was a different color than the other kids, and they spoke with an accent. More importantly, Princess Isi and her family lived and even understood the world differently than the other kids. Isi thought the platypi might be easier to understand than the kids she knew. The Princess moped for days, thinking of nothing but Ivor, her destiny.

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The Princess had just had a big fight with her parents!

They were sitting at the table eating. Well, her parents were eating. The Princess refused to eat the disgusting Roast Beast the chef insisted on making. It was obviously gross. They had to smother it in some sort of horrible sauce just to eat it. But her father, the king, loved it.

So, there she was, trying to impart how important it was that her parents get her some platypi (or was it platypuses?), that in fact without them she was a mere pauper, when her father burst out laughing!

“Honey,” he said once he caught his breath, “just put it out of your head. You’ll forget platypuses (or is it platypi?) in a few weeks and you can go back to playing with your dolls and matchbox cars like a good Princess.”

Her father was so mean!! And he didn’t even know her! If he knew anything, it would be that she abhorred dolls and matchbox cars and had not played with either in months.

She slammed down her napkin and ran out of the palace, straight to the lake where she just knew Ivor would someday cavort and promenade. She flung herself in the grass facedown and pummeled the earth with her hands and feet until she exhausted herself, lying sobbing.

Suddenly, a flower appeared under her nose, where none had been a second ago! “Wh…wha…,” the startled Princess stammered as she looked up to see a porcupine smiling kindly and holding the flower out to her! And this was not just any porcupine! No, this was a porcupine in 1960’s Beatles style sunglasses, wearing a big peace symbol pendant, surrounded in some sort of sweet perfume.

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“Who are you?” the Princess wrinkled her nose, “And what is that smell?”

“Oh! Do you like it? It’s my essential oil, patchouli.”

“Essential oil? For a porcupine? How on earth does a porcupine apply patchouli oil without pricking herself?”

“That, my dear, is a secret for another day,” the aromatic porcupine answered enigmatically, “But do you like the scent?”

“Yes, no, I don’t know…who are you? Some kind of hippie porcupine?”

“Who, me?,” she said sweetly. “We’re all One, lovey. I am you, and you are me, and we are All That Is…”

“Whatever!” The Princess turned her back on the strange sight.

But the porcupine was not to be put off. She came right around to shove the flower under Isi’s nose again.

“Ok, Ok, I can see that was not what you meant. My name is Clover Astralride Lovehaze. But you can call me Clover. And you are Princess Isi,” Clover said with a bow and a flourish.

“Clover Astralride Lovehaze? Seriously. Did your parents name you that?” the Princess asked incredulously.

The porcupine simply smiled. Reluctant but curious, the Princess took the proffered flower. “Nice to meet you,” she stammered politely.

Quite suddenly, without the slightest advance notice, the hippie porcupine broke into song– the classic Beatles song, in fact, only the Princess didn’t know it:

“Listen…
Oooh wah ooh,
Do you want to know a secret, Oooh wah ooh,
Do you promise not to teeeee-eeell?”

“What? Tell me already,” for patience was not among the Princess’s considerable virtues.

“Closer,”  the porcupine went right on singing,

“Oooh wah oooh,
Let me whisper in your ear,
Tell you what you long to heeeeeear…”

“Enough already, tell me!” our pugnacious little Princess was not much of a charmer, either.

“I’m trying to. Just hang on and let me finish!” the porcupine chided before resuming her song:

“Listen…
Oooh wah ooh,
Do you want to know a secret, Oooh wah ooh,
Do you promise not to tell?”

“Yes, yes, I promise not to tell, but only if you STOP SINGING,” the Princess yelled with her hands tightly covering her ears.

Clover only sang louder,

“All’s in love with you,
Oooh ooh oooh oooh ooh.”

“What! Paul’s in love with me? Paul who?” the Princess asked eagerly.

“No! Not Paul, All. All’s in love with you.”

“What kind of name is All?” the princess scoffed.

The hippie porcupine sighed and sat down. “You know, All. All That Is. The Light,.The Source. The Creator.”

“Creator?” Princess Isi said with a wrinkled brow, “You mean God?”

“Yes, God or Goddess, if you prefer.”

“So that’s the big secret? That God loves me? My parents have been telling me that since I was little. That’s no secret!”

“No, my dear, that is not the secret. But what you may not know, and this IS the secret, is hat All That Is– or God– or your own Higher Self if you look at it that way– wants you to have all that you have ever wanted or needed or dreamed of. And there is just one simple thing you must do to get it.”

“All that I dream of? Really? Even a platypus named Ivor, the Irish Warrior?”

“Even Ivor.”

“And his faithful pals?”

“Yes, and Ivor’s faithful pals. You, my dear, have plentiforous platypi at your fingertips, all for the asking.” “Really?”

“Yes, all that your heart desires,” Clover intoned majestically.

“No, I mean, that’s great, but is the plural of platypus really platypi?” Princess Isi enquired.

“Well actually, both platypi and platypuses are correct, but don’t you want to know how you can have plentiforousness?”

“Are you going to tell me?” the Princess asked skeptically.

“The answer lies in your heart,” Clover answered cryptically while spraying a mist of patchouli in front of her and walking through it before settling down in a lotus position.

Have you ever seen a porcupine sit in lotus position? Ouch!

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“Come on! My heart is already certain of the truth! I know that I must have platypi! My life will never be complete until I have them!”

The porcupine sat still, neither looking at Princess Isi, nor saying a word. A breeze blew the grass around them, the leaves rustled in the trees. Far off, birds sang. The two sat in the warm afternoon sun, a perfectly-at-peace porcupine and a petulant Princess who perceived herself a pauper.

Minutes passed, and finally Clover spoke. “My dear. The problem is perception. Your predicament is in your pauper perception that what you have is a mere pittance. Your heart is full of what you don’t have. Look around you. Look at what you do have. For you are not a pauper princess, but a Princess with a profusion of plentiforous prizes. I want you to tell me, right now, what are you grateful for?”

Pugnaciously, the Princess replied, “Porcupine platitudes…”

“Do you need me to start singing again? No? Then describe for me your plethora of presents!” Clover settled back down into the lotus position (ouch!) and said more gently, “What do you appreciate about your life today?”

“Well,” the princess replied tentatively, “I am a Princess with parents who love me. I have this beautiful meadow and lake to play by. I have food and a warm bed to sleep in. I have flowers to gaze at and to smell.”

“Go on,” Clover encouraged.

“I can dance. I can sing.”

“You can listen to me sing!” They were both getting into it now.

“Oh no! I am grateful that you stopped singing,” the Princess replied giggling. Soon they were both rolling in the grass laughing until their stomachs ached.

Finally, Clover sat up, straightened her glasses, fixed the flower chain around her neck, and straightened her peace pendant.

“Plentiforousness, my dear. You have plentiforousness. The key is in your perception,” pontificated the perspicacious porcupine softly. “Close your eyes for a moment, dear Princess,” instructed the porcupine. “What do you hear?”

The wind blew gently, rustling the leaves in the trees. Birds sang. Waves lapped quietly at the lake’s shore. “It’s beautiful!” the Princess whispered with awe. “I never noticed before how beautiful it sounds out here.”

The porcupine smiled.

“So to paraphrase,” the Princess pondered, “if it’s all in my perception, what you are pointing out is that we must not see what we don’t have, but what we do have.”

“Om…” the porcupine intoned peacefully. “All things bring us joy.”

“But how does that get me my platypi?” the Princess earnestly enquired.

Clover turned then and gazed into the princess’ eyes. “Lovey, everything we do, everything we think, everything we are is a prayer. You may be praying to God or Goddess or the Universe or the Light or All That Is or your own highest self, or that tree right over there. Your prayers go out to anything you believe in, the ocean, the wind, the concept of goodness, anything at all. The point is that your whole life, my dear, is a prayer. And when you pray, ‘I have a paucity of platypi, I am a poor Princess who will never know plentiforousness and will never open up to joy,’ then that is what is granted to you. Remember that All is in love with you and answers every prayer.”

“So how do I get my platypi?” the Princess was becoming petulant again.

“Princess Isi, you must stop worrying about the platypi. It does not mean that you don’t want them, and that you won’t have them. But instead, focus on two things.”

“Gratitude is the first,” said the Princess, “but what is the second?”

“The second, dear girl, is Love.”

“Love? I don’t get it, I’m too young to date.”

“No, my dear, not love with a small ‘l’, but Love with a capital ‘L’. Instead of thinking of your own needs all the time, give time everyday thinking about and doing for others. How can you show them Love? What can you do to bring joy to others, to help others? For example, when was the last time you pestered your parents for platypi?”

“Umm…about an hour ago?” the Princess mumbled.

“When was the last time you did something thoughtful for them?”

The Princess realized it had been a long time, “I guess it would be nice if I would bring a bouquet of wildflowers to them.”

“A little love goes a long way,” Clover agreed.

“This is all very pretty, but what does showing Love to others have to do with getting me plentiforous platypi?”

“Why do you want platypi? Be honest.”

“To play with, of course!”

“And tell me, why do you never play with other kids?”

“They don’t like me,” the Princess said sadly.

“Are you sure? Have you done anything to let them know you’d like to be friends?” “Errr, I don’t know..”

“Might they be concerned that you, an exotic foreign princess, might not like them?” “I, I, I never thought of it that way,” Isi stammered with surprise.

“Mmmm-hmmm,” the porcupine said sagely.

“I think I get it!” the Princess exclaimed, “I have been focusing on all the wrong things!

Instead of trying to get what I want all the time, I should look at what I already have, and look for ways to help others find happiness.”

“Precisely, my Princess, precisely.”

The now-peaceful Princess and the paladin Porcupine gazed at the sky and saw something very special! The clouds were shaped like playful platypi promenading above them!

“Plentiforousness,” the Princess put forth. “I had it all along.”

And the two laid back to watch the clouds roll by, content in the here and now.

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© Story copyright Indra Lahiri, 2019, ©Illustrations copyright Michan Beahan, 2019. Do not reproduce without written permission. For permission, contact info@indraloka.org